12 October 2018
John Gough Nichols in his Literary Remains of King Edward VI (London, 1857; C.101.c.2.) gives a small ‘catalogue of such of the books in the Royal Library now preserved in the British Museum’ (pp. cccxxv-cccxxxviii), including:
SILUA DE VARIA LECTION, cōpuesta por el magnifico cauallero Pedro Mexia nueuamēte agora en el año de mil y quienientos [sic] et cinquenta y vno. Valladolid, 1551,
On the last leaf are these lines, written in a very neat Italian hand:
Il pouero s’affatica molto in cercar quel che gli manca. Et il ricco in conseruare quello che egli ha. Et il virtuoso in domander [sic] quel che gli bisogna.
[Google now identifies these line as coming from Doni’s Zucca (1551)]
These lines resemble so much King Edward’s best hand that they may have been regarded as his. On the sides of the book are impressed these arms, in colours – Gules, on a chevron between three fleurs-de-lis or as many hurts, which render it a doubtful whether this was really one of the King’s books.
In the British Museum Library’s main catalogue of printed books (known as ‘GK’) this hardened to: “On the verso of the last leaf is written an Italian proverb, most probably in the handwriting of Edward VI., to whom the volume belonged.”
If Nichols was sceptical, T.A. Birrell was even more so: as he points out, the ‘E VI’ on the spine need mean no more than that the book was printed in his reign (p. 13).
And what could be less revealing of identity than a fine Italic hand?
The Tudors were all good linguists. Edward’s Greek and Latin were excellent, possibly better than his French: “conversing with him in Latin, Edward asked [Hieronymus] Cardano about his recent book which had been dedicated to him. There then ensued a debate upon the nature of comets, during which Cardano considered Edward ‘spoke Latin as politely and fluently as I did’” (Skidmore, p. 240).
I’ve no evidence of his knowledge of Spanish. There are no manuscript annotations in (t)his copy of Mexia, before you ask.
Whether this copy was Edward’s or not, it was a much-read book in its time throughout Europe. It’s a compendium of miscellaneous, curious knowledge, some of it useful and some of it useless (if knowledge is ever useless). Subjects include: did early men live longer than the moderns? The history of the Turks (a hot topic in 1540); the history of the Amazons; why a small head and broad chest is a bad sign; do mermen exist? Who was the first person to tame a lion? And many many more.
It attracted the attention of the Inquisition, who demanded the chapter on Pope Joan (I, ix) to be expurgated.
The entry for Silva de varia lection from the Novus index librorum prohibitorum et expurgatorum, issued by Cardinal Antonio Zapata (Seville, 1632) 617.l.27., p. 829
Inquisition notwithstanding, Mexia was a best seller in Spanish (27 editions from 1540 to 1673), Italian (23 from 1544 to 1682), French (36 from 1552 to 1675), English (six from 1571 to 1651) and Dutch (four from 1588 to 1617).
What to me is interesting is not only the number of editions but that Mexia fell from favour in the 1670s and had disappeared by the 1680s.
Birrell charmingly calls it a “bedside book”, and although I don’t actually keep it by my pillow, I can attest from personal experience that it’s certainly good to dip into.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
T. A. Birrell, English Monarchs and Their Books from Henry VII to Charles II, The Panizzi Lectures 1986 (London, 1987) 2719.e.1586
Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England (London, 2007) YC.2007.a.8001
26 July 2018
Not many people have a good word for tobacco nowadays, but the Spanish physician Antonio Lavedán gives cases for and against all four commodities, collected out of authorities ancient and modern, in his Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades del tabaco, café, té y chocolate of 1796.
Title-page of Antonio Lavedán, Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades del tabaco, café, té y chocolate: extractado de los mejores autores que han tratado de esta materia (Madrid, 1796). RB.23.a.38178
In favour of tobacco, he says it is a simple, that is a drug taken straight. He gives full details of how the Indians of South America take it. Some early authors say it was cultivated ‘for the delight of the eyes’; but the Inca Garcilaso says the Indians ‘took it through in powdered form to unload the head through the nostrils’ (p. 18). People of quality in the Indies take it in rolls called tigarillos (p. 22). It’s interesting that so great was the authority of Galen that Lavedán cites him constantly on the subject of a plant which he could not possibly have known (p. 42). The humours are still going strong in 1796: tobacco will benefit or harm a person according to whether his habitation is cold and dry (may be used in moderation); hot and dry (don’t touch it); cold and wet; or hot and wet (take as much as you like, as it will expel the humours).
A seller of coffee, tobacco, tea and chocolate, from Assemblage nouveau des manouvries habilles = Samlung der mit ihren eigenen Arbeiten und Werckzeugen eingekleideten Künstlern, Handwerckern und Professionen. (Augsburg, 1735) 1266.i.15
Now for coffee. It was virtually unknown in the West before the 16th century (p. 103). All agree it’s good for sedentary persons of weak condition; it destroys cold humours, strengthens the stomach, helps digestion and cures palpitations (p. 110-11). On the other hand, it’s bad for melancholy and bilious persons and older women (p. 116). It’s particularly bad for persons of letters, as it causes sleeplessness, tremors, and premature old age.
Tea is not as common in Spain as in England, Holland or the East Indies. Its effects are generally positive, though Lavedán says they are hard to prove (167). He describes an experiment in which some beef in steeped in water and some in a mixture of two teas: the meat rotted in 48 hours in the water; the meat in tea had not decayed after 72 hours (pp. 168-69).
The medical effects of chocolate are also controverted, but vary according to the humours of the patient, unumquodque recipitur admodum recipientis (p. 225). It is beneficial when taken in the morning (let’s remember we’re talking about drinking chocolate) but not later in the day, as it mixes with food (p. 223). Its effects are weakened by constant use (p. 228).
Humoral though he is, Lavedán is no moralist: his concerns are wholly medical.
Lavedán seems to have been a compiler and translator of books on medical subjects. The British Library also has his Tratado de las enfermedades epidémicas, pútridas, contagiosas, y pestilentes, traducido y recopilado de varios autores (Madrid, 1802; 7561.dd.24).
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
12 July 2018
I am delighted, excited, and ever so slightly daunted to be embarking upon my journey as the British Library’s second-ever Translator in Residence. When I saw the advert it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring together the things I have been most occupied with over the last decade or more: language, education, translation, cultural exploration and of course, books.
I came to literary translation relatively recently, and more or less by chance, when a friend of mine, who had recently set up The White Review, asked if I’d be interested in translating a short essay by the Argentinian writer, Cesar Aíra, followed by a longer piece by Enrique Vila-Matas. Having just moved to Cardiff and given up my job to look after my then two-year old son, cerebral activity of this kind was most welcome. Translating work by very much established Spanish-language writers, and seeing them out in the world, was a real kick so early on. Before long I translated my first piece from Portuguese, a wonderful essay on video games by the Brazilian Daniel Galera, and soon after was selected to go to Paraty, Brazil, for a BCLT/British Council organised literary translation winter school. Since those heady days translation has become an activity I can’t do without, and I’ve worked with some brilliant authors, publications and anthologies, as well as exhibitions, universities, and even Portuguese food export firm. However, I’m still chasing that first book-length translation.
At the same time, I have spent a good part of the last five or so years working as a teacher, first as a languages teacher in secondary schools in London and the Rhondda Valleys, and then as a teacher and co-ordinator of English as an additional language (EAL) in Fishponds, Bristol. This last experience, where I had the privilege of working closely with young people who had only recently arrived in the UK, sometimes from very difficult situations, made a profound mark on me, and will be just as instrumental in my approach to the residency as my experience with translation. Witnessing the difficulty some young people have adapting to their new surroundings, combined with the ease with which they pick up English (many of the children I worked with were already fluent in two or more languages) has really altered my perspective on a lot of things.
Over the course of my residency I want to draw attention to the wealth of skills and knowledge contained within UK schools, where unfortunately many multilingual children still think of their home language as a source of shame rather than a gift. I want to bring young people from all backgrounds into the library to learn about translation and themselves contribute to BL’s incredible collection, through creative collaborations and, if all goes to plan, creating their own entries for the library’s sound archives.
Inspired by the AHRC’s current Translating Cultures project, I also want to focus on how people’s identities change and adapt as people start existing in other languages. Though I grew up speaking only English, 3 of my grandparents spoke 4 languages between them (Hindi, Sindhi, Punjabi and Welsh) but spent most of their lives existing in English. I also want to play a small role in challenging the hegemony of English, which, under the guise of utility, ends up being ubiquitous, making the world a more predictable and less exciting place.
As well as celebrating the wealth of community languages spoken somewhere like Camden, or any notable UK town or city, I’d also like to bring the many native UK languages—Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic, Scots, Manx, as well as different dialects— to the attention of people in the capital. I grew up in London but have lived in Wales for half a decade; both of my children are educated through the medium of Welsh, and I am finally learning the language myself. I’m often astonished as to how little people outside of Wales know about the thriving bilingual communities that exist there, even in a city like Cardiff. So much media attention denigrates these tongues as ‘pointless’ or ‘dead’, even while simultaneously celebrating multilingualism in general. Again, I hope to redress that balance through events, open days and online activity.
Of course, these are big ideas, and one thing I hope to take away from this year is the ability and the know-how to transform them into concrete things, with the help of the wonderful and talented staff of the library itself. I’m also hoping to involve other translators, to whom I owe so much, as collaborators, advisers, guest speakers, bloggers, and everything else!
Translation can be a hobby, a necessity, an occupation, a way of life, a process, and I’m honoured to have been given the opportunity to explore it in all its different guises, over a full year, and in such an amazing setting.
Rahul Bery, Translator in Residence
Charles Forsdick, “Translating Cultures” Theme Leadership Fellow, Arts and Humanities Research Council, said:
The AHRC “Translating Cultures” theme is delighted to be working with the British Library and the IMLR on the translator-in residence scheme for a second year, following the highly successful inaugural residency of Jen Calleja. We look forward to supporting Rahul in the role, and to ensuring that AHRC-funded researchers from among the 100 or so “Translating Cultures” projects are fully engaged in the activities he plans. The collaboration is an excellent way to enhance public understanding of translation, and to demonstrate that the multiple languages spoken in the UK are a key national resource and an integral part of everyday life.
Catherine Davies, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, said:
Collaboration with the British Library and the AHRC on the translator-in-residence scheme is a new venture for the IMLR, and one we hope to continue in future years. IMLR promotes research in Modern Languages and of course this includes Translation and Creative Writing. Rahul’s priorities, to work with schools, migrant communities and community languages, are also priorities for the IMLR. Everyone who can speak a language other than English should be proud of their languages, and should be given due accreditation and recognition. Rahul's work at the British Library will help make this a reality and inspire us to cross borders and celebrate Britain's rich language diversity.
Janet Zmroczek, Head of European and American Collections at the British Library, said:
The British Library is thrilled to be hosting its second translator in residence and to be working with Rahul, and our partners at the AHRC and the IMLR to build upon the success of the inaugural residency scheme that the BL began last year with Jen Calleja. The Library is a natural home for translation and translators, holding as it does incomparable contemporary and historical collections in a vast range of languages, from historical dictionaries and print publications in most written languages of the world, to the archives of literary translators, sound recordings and oral history interviews. Rahul’s ambitions to bring together the Library’s dedicated multilingual staff, local communities and an international community of researchers, students and visitors will I’m sure make it a busy and fascinating year ahead for us all.
02 July 2018
Cricket, arguably more than any other sport, encourages the collection of statistics, as any listener to the BBC’s ‘Test Match Special’ knows. Wisden, or The Cricketer’s Almanack, was first published as early as 1864 and has been documenting matches and calculating players’ averages ever since. The nature of the sport lends itself to the accumulation and analysis of data: not just batting or bowling averages, but also all manner of records – from most runs off an over to the fastest hundred by an Australian in his (or her) debut test in England. The BBC’s first TMS scorers or, better, statisticians, Arthur Wrigley and Bill Frindall, acquired legendary status for their meticulous record keeping and anticipation of records about to be broken.
It is, however, surprising to come across not only a Spanish cricket enthusiast in the late 19th century but one who compiled a book of cricket statistics devoted to an English county. The British Library holds a copy of Anthony Benítez de Lugo’s Surrey at the Wicket, which was printed in Madrid at his own expense in 1888. The full title is: Surrey at the wicket. A complete record of all the matches played by the county eleven since the formation of the club. Yearly and general batting and bowling averages with other informations [sic] interesting to Surrey cricketers.
As the title indicates, the work documents the results of all matches played by Surrey, together with batting and bowling averages, year-by-year from 1844 until 1887. Surrey County Cricket Club was officially founded in 1845, but an 1844 match against the M.C.C. is included. Score cards are not included, which is initially confusing as the results tables always show Surrey as if batting first. Benítez de Lugo does not mention his sources of information. However, for the period after 1864 he would have had access to Wisden, and before that to press reports and to Frederick Lillywhite’s publications. The latter may have provided him with details of players’ height and weight. Most probably he had access to Surrey’s own records and, almost certainly, he kept records himself.
But who was our Spanish cricket enthusiast? He was born Antonio Benítez de Lugo y de la Cantera in Havana in 1857 and in 1893 he acquired the title of Marqués de Santa Susana, bestowed on him by María Cristina, Regent for Alfonso XIII, in recognition of his aunt Susana Benítez de Lugo’s charitable work in Cuba. However, it is not clear how he came to be interested in cricket nor when he began the compilation of statistics.
Benítez de Lugo went on to publish two further books of statistics, although sadly neither is in the British Library. The first, The Surrey Champion (1895), documented the career of the Surrey cricketer, Walter Read (1855-1907), who was most noted for a match-saving innings of 117 for England against Australia in 1884 when batting down at number 10. He also provided statistics for Read’s own Annals of Cricket (London, 1896; 07095.k.1), as Read acknowledged in his introduction: ‘thanks are due to the Marquis de Santa Susana for the exhaustive records of my own doings’ (p. 3).
His final work, published in 1900, brought Surrey at the Wicket up to date down to 1899. His statistics were also deployed in the extensive Surrey Cricket. Its History and Associations of 1902, as is indicated by the acknowledgement ‘the whole of the statistics … are the work of the Marquis de Santa Susana’ (pp. v.-vi.). He is also described there as ‘one of the most enthusiastic followers of Surrey cricket’ (p. vi).
There are obvious gaps in this account. Keen followers of Surrey cricket and statisticians are invited to fill them in and to correct any errors.
Geoff West, Former Head of Hispanic Collections
Anthony Benítez de Lugo, The Surrey Champion. A complete record of Mr Walter William Read’s performance for Surrey and in representational matches, 1873-1897 (Madrid, 1895). Private circulation. 100 copies.
Anthony Benítez de Lugo, A Summary of Surrey Cricket 1844-99. (Madrid, 1900). Private circulation.
The cricketer’s almanack for... 1864 [-1869], then John Wisden’s cricketers’ almanack for… 1870 [-1937]. (London, 1864-1937). RH.9.x.1533.
Fred Lillywhite, Frederick Lillywhite’s cricket scores and biographies of celebrated cricketers, from 1746. Vols. 3-4. (London, 1863-64) 7905.de.9.
E. W. Padwick, A bibliography of cricket. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (London, 1984). British Library HLR 796.358.
Richard Everard Webster, Surrey Cricket. Its history and associations. Ed. Lord Alverstone... and C. W. Alcock. (London, 1902). 07905.i.47.
03 May 2018
Do you find yourself saying out loud what should really have stayed in your head?
In the course of a short recent bus ride one passenger exclaimed to no-one in particular, “How am I supposed to get to work on time?” when the driver stopped for a minute for the maintenance of headway (see Magnus Mills’s novel of 2009; NOV.2010/1230.) (My answer fortunately stayed silent: “Get up earlier.”)
Five minutes later a man was on the phone, berating his local council for incompetence in the Council Tax department.
The ancients didn’t have buses or phones, but they knew about the problem: mens fenestrata, the windowed mind.
According to the myth, Athene, Poseidon, and Hephaestus had a match in inventiveness. Poseidon made a bull, Athene planned a house, Hephaestus constructed a man; when they came before Momus, who was to judge, he examined their productions; I need not trouble you with his criticisms of the other two; but his objection to the man, and the fault he found with Hephaestus, was this: he should have made a window in his chest, so that, when it was opened, his thoughts and designs, his truth or falsehood, might have been apparent (Hermotimus 20); tr. Fowler, p. 52.
We should recall that to the ancients site of the mind was the breast.
In the Renaissance the idea was picked up by Leon Battista Alberti:
Momus found fault with these gifts [of Pallas, Minerva and Prometheus], particularly when the other gods sang their praises. [...] The job had been carried out stupidly in one respect, for man’s mind had been hidden in his chest, among his internal organs, whereas in ought to have been placed upon his lofty brow, in the open space of his face [propatulaque in sede vultus locasse oportuit] (p. 17)
(‘Open’ I think alludes to the window or door.)
And the 17th century, when Momus was so popular, liked the idea of uncovering the truth. In Luis Vélez de Guevara’s satirical novel of 1641 El Diablo Cojuelo, the Devil on Two Sticks as the English translation calls him, peels the roofs off the houses of Madrid to reveal their true contents:
You are really too polite, replied the Devil; but, can you guess now why I have brought you here? I intend to show you all that is passing in Madrid; and as this part of the town is as good to begin with as any, you will allow that I could not have chosen a more appropriate situation. I am about, by my supernatural powers, to take away the roofs from the houses of this great city; and notwithstanding the darkness of the night, to reveal to your eyes whatever is doing within them. As he spoke, he extended his right arm, the roofs disappeared, and the Student’s astonished sight penetrated the interior of the surrounding dwellings as plainly as if the noon-day sun shone over them. It was, says Luis Velez de Guevara, like looking into a pasty from which a set of greedy monks had just removed the crust. (Translated by Joseph Thomas from the French translation of Lesage)
Lucian, and those who followed him, thought the window in the chest was a good idea, an instrument of the transparency for which we’re constantly calling nowadays.
But if our inner thoughts were exposed to the world this might be too much information.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
The Works of Lucian of Samosata ... Translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (Oxford, 1905) 11340.aaa.24.
Leon Battista Alberti, Momus, ed. and tr. Sarah Knight and Virginia Brown (London, 2003) YK.2004.a.2189
Alejandro Coroleu, ‘Mens fenestrata: the Survival of a Lucianic Motif in seventeenth-century Spanish Literature’, Res publica litterarum, 19 (1996), pp. 217-26. 7713.892000
Asmodeus, The Devil On Two Sticks, Translated by Joseph Thomas (London. 1841) 12549.i.1.
26 April 2018
The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 4 June in the Dickens and Eliot Rooms of the British Library Knowledge Centre.
The programme is as follows:
1.30 Registration and Coffee
2.00 Stephen Rawles (Glasgow), Measuring typesetting effort in the 1530s and 40s: calculating ems in the work of Denis Janot.
2.45 Thomas Earle (Oxford), Rui de Pina’s Crónica de D. Afonso V: manuscript and print
4.00 Geoff West (London), The Spanish and Portuguese Manuscripts of Frederick William Cosens (1819-1889)
4.45 Susan Reed (London), Fraktur vs Antiqua: a debate in the London German press in 1876.
The Seminar will end at 5.30pm.
The seminar is free and all are welcome, but please let the organisers, Susan Reed (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Barry Taylor (email@example.com) know if you wish to attend.
Vignette from Cornelio Desimoni, Nuovi studi sull'Atlante Luxoro (Genoa, 1869) 10003.w.4.
23 April 2018
Happy St George’s Day, everyone! Today England celebrates the feast of its patron saint, but the day is also celebrated in Portugal, Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Palestine and some regions of Spain. In Catalonia, there are special events for what is known there as La Diada de Sant Jordi. Customs include giving presents of roses and books, so the streets today will be full of wonderful smells and colours!
The Catalan version of the Saint George legend recounts how the brave knight was willing to give his life to save a princess. The young girl had been selected by chance to be fed to a fearsome dragon besieging her small kingdom. The knight rescued her from the beast’s claws by killing it with his spear.
According to legend, when the drops of dragon’s blood fell on the ground, they turned into roses. The knight picked one, handed it to the princess, and together they lived happily ever after. The story also says that the rose re-blossoms with new energy every April, which helps explain why the festival to commemorate the knight’s deeds takes place in this month.
Ultimately, however, the legend of George slaying a dragon and rescuing an innocent maiden is a medieval addition to the story of a much older historical figure. The origins of the festival go back as far as 23 April 303 AD when the Romans beheaded a soldier named George who had previously led a battalion under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. His crime? Refusing to obey the Emperor’s orders to persecute Christians. His punishment was martyrdom.
The story of this Christian knight quickly attracted veneration, with a wide range of fantastic births and different legends attributed to the Saint, who was canonised in the 7th century. His cult gradually spread through the Catalan region until, in 1456, he was officially named the patron saint of Catalonia.
Bernat Martorell, Saint George Killing the Dragon, c. 1434/35. (The Art Institute of Chicago; Image from the Google Art Project via Wikimedia Commons)
Sant Jordi celebrations in Catalonia can be traced back at least 300 years, with the Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona already hosting a Rose Fair on the day by the 15th century. This mediaeval celebration was dedicated to weddings, betrothals and marriages, and custom dictated that a man should buy a red rose for his wife, as a symbol of his passion.
In 1456, the day became an official festival, but in the early 18th century, with the fall of the city of Barcelona and the ascension of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne, it began to lose its devotees. It was not until the end of the 19th century, with the Renaixença, that Sant Jordi’s day regained its strength and vitality to vindicate the historical and cultural heritage of Catalonia.
The revival of the day was consolidated at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. At this time, an effort was made to revitalize Sant Jordi traditions, which not only appealed to feelings of patriotism and sentimentality, but also directly benefited the publishing sector, as we will see below. Under Franco’s regime, however, Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy was annulled and Sant Jordi celebrations were prohibited. Nevertheless, following the death of the dictator, the day regained its characteristic festive brilliance.
Goigs en llaor de Sant Jordi, martir (Vilanova i la Geltrú, 1964) Cup.21.g.6.(56.) A poem in praise of St George, adapted from an older source by Ricardo Vives i Sabaté with music by J. Maideu i Auguet
The festival’s original association with books dates back to the 1920s, when the director of the Cervantes publishing house, Valencian writer Vicent Clavel i Andrés, approached the Barcelona Official Chamber of Books and the Publishers and Booksellers Guild to organize a festival promoting books in Catalonia. The date chosen was October 7 1927.
When the International Exhibition was held in Barcelona in 1929 booksellers took it upon themselves to go out into the streets, setting up stands to display their new publications and encourage reading. Their efforts met with such success that they decided to establish an annual Book Day. However, they changed the date to 23 April to coincide with the anniversary of two great authors’ deaths: Cervantes and Shakespeare.
Above: Cover of Jordi Arquer, Oda a Sant Jordi (Mexico City, 1943), no. 233 of an edition of 500 copies. Below: opening with the author's signature and a memorial dedication to Shakespeare and Cervantes; the poem, published by Arquer in exile, was intended to mark 23 April.
Since its first inception, the festival has brought energy to Catalan publishing and continues to provide great support for the sector today. It has had such a significant impact that in 1995 UNESCO’s General Assembly declared 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day.
Sant Jordi is Catalonia’s primary patron of lovers, taking precedence even over St Valentine. Traditionally, a man gives his beloved a single red rose with an ear of wheat, and women give their lovers a book. These days, however, you will also see women receiving books, and men roses.
Why a single red rose and an ear of wheat? According to tradition, this gift combines three symbolic characteristics: the single flower represents the exclusivity of the lover’s feeling, the rose’s red colour symbolizes passion, and the ear of wheat stands for fertility. These are the elements that make it a good gift for a loved one on a special day like this.
Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Cataloguer, Gulf History
07 December 2017
The medieval archives of the Crown of Aragon are generally said to be richer than those of neighbouring Castile. They’re an invaluable source for scholars of all aspects of cultural history, including the history of the book.
And of weird stuff.
In the inventory of the goods of Martin I (1356-1410) we find the following treasures: the arm of St George (p. 461); ditto St Barbara (461); and he must have had over 100 pieces of church vestments.
He had the Cid’s sword:
item una spasa ab son pom de jaspi apellada ne tisona sens fouro bo (p. 524)
[Item a sword with a jasper pommel called The Tizona without a good scabbard]
He had a piece of cloth decorated with the magical sign or seal or knot of Solomon:
primo una tovallola de lens prim brodada de fil d aur e de sede de diverses colors ab .IIII. baboyns de fil d or e de sede en mig VII. senyals salamons squinsada (p. 507)
[first, a fine linen cloth embroidered with gold thread and silk in various colours with four baboons in gold thread in the middle of seven signs of Solomon, torn]
A version of the seal of Solomon from Pertus de Abano, Claviculae Salomonis, seu Philosophia pneumatica … (Bifingen, 1974). X.529/17795
Even these apparently harmless references to items showing the Armed Man turn out, as explained by Joan Evans, in her study, Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance particularly in England, to be amulets: “in many instances those [stones] that include figures of armed men confer courage and victory in battle” (p. 49), “for alectorias, for instance, the sigil of an armed knight and consecration by nine masses is prescribed” (p. 71):
item una bossa de vellut carmesi dins la qual ha Ia empremte o ymatge pocha de I. hom qui te una spasa en la ma e un cap tellat en l altre ab un cordo de seda vermeya (p. 491)
[item a bag of carmine velvet in which is a small impression or image of a man with a sword in one hand and a detached head in the other with a red cord]
Carved gems for use as amulets, from, Johann Martin von Ebermayer, Capita Deorum et illustrium hominum ... nec non Hieroglyphica, Abraxea et Amuleta quædam, in gemmis antiqua partim, partim recenti manu, affabre incisa (Frankfurt, 1721). 139.g.11.
There are nine or so references to “serpents’ teeth”. These were actually prehistoric arrow heads or fossils, and were used to test food for poison. Martin had some mounted on a branching piece of coral, to form what in English we call by the French name of languier:
item diversos trosos de branchas d coral ab algunes lengues de serps encastades en argent (p. 528)
[item various pieces of coral branches with some serpent’s teeth set in silver]
Coral was used as a teething ring, because it too was thought to have protective powers:
item una brancha de coral ab una virolla d argent per a portar a infants (p. 490)
[item a coral branch with a golden ring for children to wear]
And how could he fail to have:
item .I. tros de unicorn encastat en .I.a virolla d aur ab son cordo vermey (p. 541)
[item a piece of unicorn set in a gold ring with its red cord]
As Roca tells us, citing a letter of 1379, unicorn horn too was proof against poison : “la qual val contra verí” (p. 54).
Unicorns, from Pierre Pomet, Histoire générale des Drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux et des mineraux (Paris, 1694) 37.h.7.
Martin wasn’t some dark-age wizard who crammed his palace with superstitious rubbish, although he might have been unduly afraid of poisoning. He was also a patron of medical schools in the modern sense, and it’s likely many of these gewgaws were family heirlooms, as they also appear in the inventory of James II (1267-1327), his great grandfather. And these old beliefs died hard and in the 1720s the existence of the unicorn was still a matter of debate.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
J. Massó Torrents, ‘Inventari del bens del rey Martí d’Aragó’, Revue Hispanique, 12 (1905), 413-590. PP.4331.aea
J. M. Roca, La medicina catalana en temps del Rey Martí (Barcelona, 1919) YA.1990.a 16394
Joan Evans, Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance particularly in England (Oxford, 1922) W2/7263
You can discover many more magical artefacts in our current exhibition Harry Potter: a History of Magic, which runs until 28 February 2018
13 November 2017
Did you have to hand in your wand when you came to the British Library to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic? There’s a reason for that.
When Arnau de Cabrera entered judicial combat with Bernat de Centelles in Barcelona in 1274, both parties had to declare before King Jaume I “I swear I am carrying no magical weapons” [quod non deferebant aliquid quod haberet virtutem].
Mediaeval knights in combat from Jean d'Arras, Roman de Mélusine, c. 1450. MS Harley 4418, f. 56.
Arnau de Cabrera however denounced his opponent for bearing the sword of Vilardell: no-one who bore it could be defeated or killed [“portavit ensem de Villardello, qui quidem ensis habet virtutem ut nullus subcumbere vel superari possit qui illum in bello detulerit”]. It also had the quality that if it was put point down it righted itself.
Apparently, Bernat’s father, like any good parent, had bought the sword for him for 500 maravedis. He had also asked the Prior of St Paul’s in Barcelona for a shirt which again prevented its owner from being vanquished in battle.
And what’s more Bernat was wearing an iron cap which contained a precious stone called diamas, supplied by his brother Gilabert: the bearer’s bones could not be broken.
The king found for Arnau.
The Sword of Vilardell acquired its powers because it was forged at a particularly propitious astrological conjunction.
Relief from Barcelona Cathedral showing Vilardell fighting a griffin with his magical sword. (Photograph by Pere López from Wikimedia Commons.
The sword’s original owner, Vilardell, went out one day with an ordinary sword to cut wood. He did a kind deed for a poor man who replaced his old sword with a new one and then disappeared. Vilardell tested the new sword by splitting a rock with it (still to be seen) and then slayed a dragon. So in the early accounts it was a holy weapon not a magic one.
The sword eventually found its way to the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, where you can see it.
Virtually nobody in the Middle Ages doubted the existence of magic, or its efficacy. What the Church for instance objected to was the use of magic for evil ends.
Modern-day surveillance equipment will (hopefully) pick up any concealed weapons, but magic ones (and I don’t want to alarm you) might be beyond its reach.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
Martí de Riquer, Llegendes històriques catalanes (Barcelona, 2000) YA.2001.a.38498
Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1988) YC.1988.a.7138
10 October 2017
The Greeks had two words for us: ekphrasis (the verbal description of a work of art) and topothesia (the description of an imagined place).
As topothesia is the less common, look it up in your copy of Erasmus De copia:
Quae si verae sint, τoπoγραφιας appellari volunt, sin fictae, τoπoθεσιας. Prioris formae sunt: Carthiginis et portus apud Maronem descriptio; apud Plinium in Epistolis Laurentis villae; apud Statium Surretinum Polii et Tibertinum Manlii; posterioris: sedes Somni apud Ouidium; domes Famae et regia Solis apud eundem; inferorum et Caci domus apud Vergilium; Tenari apud Statium; domus apud Lucianum; regia Psyches apud Apuleium.
[If these descriptions are true, they are called topographias; if imagined, topothesias. In the first category are: the description of Carthage and its port in Virgil; of his Laurentine villa in the letters of Pliny; the villas of Polius in Sorrento and Manlius in Tivoli in Statius. The imagined include: the House of Sleep, the House of Fame, and the Palace of the Sun in Ovid [Met. 11.592; 12.39; 2.1]; Hell and the House of Cacus in Virgil [Aen. 6.268; 8. 225 ss]; Taenarum in Statius [Thebaid 2.32]; the house in Lucian [De domo]; and the Palace of Psyche in Apuleius [5.1-2].]
As nobody has seen the next world and lived to tell the tale, descriptions of the Other Side count as imagined descriptions.
A once well-known ekphrasis is the Table (or Tablet) of Cebes, alias Pinax. This describes a metal plate on which is depicted the whole life of man:
It was rather a circular enclosure, with two other such enclosures within it, one larger than the other. On the first circle was a gateway, near which was pictured a crowd of folk, and within it we saw a multitude of women. [...]
[An old man explains:]
This circle is called life. The great crowd you see standing beside the gate are those about to journey into life. The old man standing above the crowd holding a paper in his hand [...] is called Genius. He is giving advice [...]
That woman of affected appearance and smooth, plausible manner [...] is called Deceit and leads all men astray [...]
So, decidedly a text: what image could incorporate so much teeming detail?
But many people took ekphrasis as a challenge: various sculptors attempted the Shield of Achilles on the basis of Homer’s text; and some tried to make visual the Table of Cebes.
An example is the image below:
All educated people in the 17th century knew the Pinax: Milton, in his treatise Of Education includes it among the ‘easy and delightful books of education’.
Francisco de Quevedo was no exception.
In 1627 he issued his Sueños (Dreams), apocalyptic visions, loosely arranged but always biting vignettes of the folly and sins of man and woman, grotesque in a very baroque way. They were censored in subsequent editions because among other things Quevedo attacked priests. Like the Good Lord, he was no respecter of parsons (Acts 10.34), a biblical pun that would have been OK in the 15th century but would have got me into trouble in the 1600s.
They were translated by Sir Roger L’Estrange.
The first illustrations of the Dreams came in Brussels in 1669 in vol. I of Quevedo’s works.
Above and below: illustrations from Francisco de Quevedo, Obras ... Nueva impression corregida y ilustrada con muchas estampas muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia. [Edited by Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas.] (Antwerp, 1699) 635.g.3-5#
The plates are by Gaspar Bouttats (1640?-96?), who ‘invenit et fecit’, i.e. they are his own designs.
I was struck by the resemblance between the engraving of the Table and the depiction of Hell and the Last Judgment in the Dreams, particularly the numerous figures crowded into a steeply raking landscape.
The resemblance is almost certainly because both images are the work of artists from the Low Countries. Perhaps when reading the text of the Dreams Bouttats’s visual memory recalled images of the Pinax.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
The Characters of Theophrastos. The Mimes of Herodas. The Tablet of Kebes. Translated with an introduction by R. Thomson Clark and 34 full page illustrations from Francis Howell’s edition of 1824. (London, ) 8464.aa.28.
Sagrario López Poza, ‘La Tabla de Cebes y los Sueños de Quevedo’, Edad de Oro, 13 (1994), 85-101. P.901/3635
Erasmus, De copia verborum ac rerum, ed. Betty I. Knott, Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, Ordo I, tom. 6 (Amsterdam, 1988), p. 214
Enrique Gacto Fernández, ‘Sobre la censura literaria en el s. XVII: Cervantes, Quevedo y la Inquisición’, Revista de la Inquisición, 1 (1991), 11-61. ZA.9.a.6465
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